When I quit my full-time publishing job to stay home with my children, I was made to feel like a traitor to womankind. My decision was somehow “proof” that women couldn’t be counted on in the business world, at least not when they became moms. I fell into the guilt trap. Though I was not ready to give up the idea that I could “have it all,” I knew I couldn’t have it all at once. Yes, this choice would sideline my career for a time, but I had faith that it wouldn’t end it.
Like my religion and my politics, I often choose not to broadcast my status as a stay-at-home-mom until after people have had time to make up their mind about me. I wait until they have decided whether I am interesting or competent enough to enter their circle. Once they’re hooked and we establish a relationship, being a stay-at-home-mom is seen as just another facet of me, not the thing that defines me.
This strategy came from the reaction of some working parents I met in social situations who, upon learning the truth about me, abruptly walked away or sniffed and looked around, seeking an excuse to escape, deeming me unworthy of intelligent conversation.
Fortunately, things have changed a bit. Today, most people are supportive of this decision. In fact, a 2014 Pew study found that 60 percent of Americans think it’s a good idea for a parent to stay home to care for children. While the proportion is still small, increasing numbers of parents are making this choice (about 27 percent of moms and about 7 percent dads, with the number among millennial moms being slightly higher). Another sign of changing times: Most of today’s stay-at-home-parents are college educated.
Considering the Impact on Family
With this kind of societal pressure, why did I stay home? It was right for our family. There were needs that would go unmet had I returned to the workforce. That was not a compromise I was willing to make. This meant we made sacrifices. It meant saying no to my kids. No to the fun summer camps some of their classmates attended; no to fancy vacations; no to some pricey activities they wanted to try. They weren’t deprived, they were just as busy as other kids, but we set our priorities with the budget in mind.
Vacations often entailed visiting family and friends. We got creative, sometimes staying at campgrounds instead of hotels and often saving money on meals by planning “picnics” after grocery store visits. Like my childhood road trip vacations that often included a cooler with bologna sandwiches and plums picked off the tree in our yard, we focused on activities and time together to make memories. Staying with or near family and friends strengthened relationships and made things more interesting.
While many women take a few years off from the workforce when children are small, most return, either when children enter school or are old enough to be unsupervised for a few hours. Sometimes this is out of necessity; other times it’s a choice. With my children spaced over 10 years, when my youngest entered grade school, my older kids were in middle and high school. I soon realized that I had it backward all those years. Parental guidance is more valuable as they get older, particularly in the middle-school years.
Those in-between years are tricky ones for our children. Bodies change, hormones rage, and cliques form and mutate. It’s difficult to tell from day to day where you stand. Peers start to have more influence and it’s tough to tell who really has your best interests in mind. There’s the temptation to take risks, to engage in behavior that’s dangerous, and potentially illegal. To be honest, this scared me. I saw some good kids make bad decisions. It was decided. I was staying home.
Weighing the Pros and Cons
When the end of high-school years were in sight, I again considered full-time employment. Then I realized what would be lost. I had become the family hub. While it sounds self-important, things would change drastically at home without me there. There would be more take-out and instant dinners, more stress (on me and everyone else), less time for fun (weekends would be spent grocery shopping and cleaning), and I would be out of the loop. I would be less aware of everyone’s moods and emotional needs.
Being home, I knew who my kids hung out with. Regularly spending time in their company allowed me to know not just names and faces, but also to know their friends as people. Simply being present and available on a day-to-day basis provided abundant organic opportunities to talk about values—mine, theirs, and society’s—as well as many opportunities to have conversations prompted by the news, an event in school, or a book they were reading. One of the greatest compliments I’ve received was being invited into my teen’s circle.
I don’t believe that I would have been a better role model to my children had I gone back to work. In fact, the opposite: I would be less of a mom and wife, perhaps even a less interesting person. Being home while my children were growing up made me more aware, more flexible, more observant. Reading to and with them, as well as chaperoning and participating in activities with them, broadened my interests and sent the message that I cared about what they thought and did.
It’s the norm today to have multiple careers. For a season, being a stay-at-home-mom was my chosen one. No matter when it occurs, changing careers is hard, but the demands of motherhood have shown me that I am capable of much more than I ever imagined, as well as given me the desire and drive to persevere. My kids have seen me struggle and sometimes doubt myself. I didn’t lose my career to motherhood, it was simply a career change. One I will never regret.
Kimberly Yavorski writes about life, especially parenting, education, social issues, travel, and the outdoors. She is always searching for things to learn and new places to explore. Links to her writing and blogs can be found at KimberlyYavorski.com